Friday, January 7, 2011

Song of the Week: Mama's Pearl

by Corey Sheppard

“Mama’s Pearl” was the fifth single released by the Jackson 5 and the first release by the boys for 1971. 1970 proved to be the year of success for the Jackson 5. With four back-to-back number one hits, three top pop albums, numerous TV appearances, and a successful tour, what more could the boys ask for? 1971 would bring a lot of change for the group and this record was the start of that.

By the time this record was recorded in mid-1970, there were signs that Michael’s voice was changing -- not so much in his range, but in his maturity as a vocalist. When he hits his high notes at the end of the second verse, he vacillates between shouting and soul singing and I appreciate his variety of style. Also on the chorus, he sings most of the lines without backup from his brothers, and he handles it well.

I’ve always had trouble finding out the true meaning of “Mama’s Pearl.” It’s always been slightly confusing to me, how the boys go from singing about a girl to pearls from a mother, I‘ll never understand. I’m sure it’s just me; it obviously makes sense to the millions of J5 fans around the world.

While “Mama’s Pearl” is a classic in my heart and in many Jackson 5 fanatics’ hearts, I do believe it fell a little short from their first three up-tempo Motown masterpieces. Don’t get me wrong -- while the song is a very excellent number by the boys, I feel something is missing from it to make it an A+ record for me. But despite this, I’m still bewildered by the fact that it was kept from being number one by the Osmonds “One Bad Apple.” That record can’t hold a candle to any of the Jacksons’ first releases. including the subject of this column.

I feel one thing that perhaps stopped this record from knocking out ”One Bad Apple” from the top spot is the fact that the boys weren’t on television much to promote it. The first television performance of the song wasn’t until the Diana! special in April 1971, four months after the record was released. For sure, another Ed Sullivan performance by the boys would have guaranteed a number one record for the brothers.

Also J5 Collector hit on a major epiphany that this single was released too long after Third Album was released. Unlike “The Love You Save,” the second single released off the ABC album that came out only a week after the album was released, “Mama’s Pearl” came out nearly four months after Third Album did. That’s a long time after the fact, especially for this period when the Jackson 5 were riding a high wave after “I’ll Be There.” It’s almost as if Motown released this single as an afterthought.

Another slight issue I have with “Mama’s Pearl” is the mix. It sounds as though not much attention was put into the actual mix of the record. First off, there is a lot of “air” in this track, more than most of the J5 tracks at the time, and it’s very evident from the intro of the song. Plus it seems as though a lot of the instruments used for the record are clouded in the mix.

I will say the alternative version of “Mama’s Pearl” found on the 2004 compilation The Jacksons Story is a far better mix, in my opinion. But I must say the energy and raw sound on the common version of “Mama’s Pearl” is something I don’t want to live without.

Wow, forty years since “Mama’s Pearl” was first released as a single! It’s amazing to me that it still packs a powerful blow for music listeners. After this release, the brothers’ singles were focused more on ballads. It wasn’t until the release of “Sugar Daddy” in late 1971 where the boys went back to their old ways. “Mama’s Pearl” gives you the opportunity to listen to the Jackson 5 at the height of their fame, and it was, is, and always will be an enjoyable audio experience.

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Corey Sheppard, 21, has been a Jackson 5 fan since 1993. His favorite hobbies are listening to music, playing racquetball at the YMCA, and hanging out with friends. Corey’s life passion is centered on music. His latest project is an all-new production company shared with Robert White Jr. entitled "Ask About It Productions."

1 comment:

  1. I realized that when they first do a song that is about to release on TV, they use the track instead of doing the song live.